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June 19, 2007


Chris S

Thanks for posting this J.R. As a bibliophile, it is always interesting to see how others choose and recommend books. I think I would add to (1) Gordon Fee's NT Exegesis and would recommend getting the IVP Bible Dictionary series before buying a commentary on every book of the Bible. (I have found for pastoral purposes it is often more helpful to have a short, high quality article on a specific topic than a commentary on a book unless you are preaching through a specific book. Then you should have at least 3 commentaries.)
I have two other thoughts: first, it seems like (6) severely limits (5). How can someone "read classics" without Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, or even much of C.S. Lewis. Second, how does/should poetry come into play in a pastor's/leader's reading lists?


Did he mention why we should not support Amazon?


I've found www.bookfinder.com and www.pricescan.com
to be excellent resources when looking for books online. Type in a specifc book or author, and they search the entire web for online stores that are selling it, then list those online outlets according to the cheapest price.



Thanks for sharing Scot's recommendation of Abunga.com as a source to buy books on the web.

Just to clarify one part we actually aren't a specifically Christian site, we sell all types of books. So don't be surprised when you see plenty of books that aren't Christian.

We consider the main differences between Abunga.com and any of the other online retailers is that we filter our books to remove those that contain illicit content, and as you mentioned we do give 5% of each purchase back to the non-profit of the customers choice. We want to empower the customer to make a difference with their purchase.

We're pretty excited about the site and if you get a moment come by and check us out.

[email protected]


J.R. like you, I've also had moments when I walk into stores or libraries and I get anxious because there are so many good books that I'd like to read and I realize that I'll never be able to read most of them. I'm glad to know I'm not alone!


I wonder if why McKnight doesn't recommend amazon.com is because Amazon is the world's leading provider of pornographic resources.


As a major Amazon user, I'm also interested in reading some additional thoughts on not using Amazon. Thanks for the other website tips.


Kevin- Try a simple exercise.

Go to your preferred books site, search for "women", "girls", "photography", or if you're more daring, try "xxx", "porn" and "sex".

You'll probably be surprised at what you find.

[email protected]


JR, Another Good Post. I like #2: Coming from a different angle, US/church history is littered with church splits between the Evangelicals (E) and main-line denomination. My Grandfather’s denomination started as an E split and is now considered as having strayed from the Bible. During my BC days, I vividly remember his replacement not even preaching from the Bible and quoting main points from a book. I understood enough of the Gospel/Bible to realize something was amiss. Point: Howard Hendricks is quoted as saying about sermons that “It is a sin to bore people with the Bible.” With 90% of E churches NOT having a biblical world view, maybe the point for Pastors is to NOT keep seeking new stuff for themselves and look to the needs of their flock. Maybe the way to understand Ecclesiastes 12 (“.. Of the making of books there is no end and much study wearies [dry out?] the body …”) is to exalt the Word well above books espousing the latest Christian fad, hot management/leadership concept, ways some other mega-church went from mega to more-mega, etc.
PS: As for #5, I still can’t force myself to give “Wild at Heart” a second chance.
Regards, DougG


Do these same rules apply to listening to books? I'm always listening to something many hours everyday and I listened to "Wild at Heart" and kind of enjoyed it that way. I'm also listening to "Heaven" by Randy Alcorn.

Gavin, I understand what you mean about other websites and I checked out Abunga.com and I liked it. Thanks again for that point.


JR, this is Kadee (Wirick) Smedley from your JUC days. I found your blog about a year ago and am very glad to see you're doing well! This recommended reading post is one I feel strongly enough about to comment on. The "don't read fiction" recommendation is very strange to me. I've referenced fiction in sermons, and also recommended (good) fiction to other believers as a means of spiritual formation--particularly Lewis and Tolkien. I read fiction (Potok, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, etc.) every Sunday as a means of Sabbath. I guess I am missing the problem with people "making stuff up." Jesus frequently "made up" stories (parables) that speak as much to his listeners as his "non-fiction" teachings. There are profound truths told through "made-up" stories that can make their way into our hearts and minds where doctrinal treatises and standard theological discourse cannot; that's why Jesus used them, at least why I think He did. And maybe also because they were witty, full of beauty and truth, and give people a means to make sense of their own journeys; good fiction does that.
Those are some of my thoughts--I hope and pray God will continue to work powerfully in your life and ministry.


Thanks for checking us out.

I enjoy audio books, as well as podcasts,and I'm always listening to them. My problem always arises when I need to do something else AND listen. They both attract my attention and neither is done well.

Anyone else have that problem?


I agree with Kadee, not that i am a pastor, but he says read to your passions, then says dont read fiction, what if fiction is one of my passions, i like an epic storyline, i like to read as a form of escape from everyday life, to enjoy myself. It seems that his statement is a personal preference, not a guideline. I think you should keep preference out of this sort of thing. I like most of what he has to say, but i would add if it is not implied, then sorry, but buy and read books with opposing views to the ones you hold. It may expand your mind.

Also Rosie Thomas is amazing, i love her songs.



Great to hear from you. Glad you are doing well.

Regarding fiction, when Scot McKnight said fiction is just "people making stuff up" was said tongue-in-cheek,he wasn't being unkind - he's a hilarious guy who has a heckuva sense of humor so when he said it in class we just about fell out of our chairs. I guess it was one of those "you just had to be there" moments.

I personally don't like fiction either. Certainly Jesus made up stories - and stories are not bad (like I said, I like films and hearing good storytellers) I just don't like reading them. But that's just me. Sorry.

Fiction certainly has its place - and the fact that it is a part of your Sabbath rhythm is commendable. But I might have a different approach or desired outcome to reading than you do...and I have no problem with that.

Or maybe its just a character flaw of mine that I don't like fiction. Maybe you can pray for my literary salvation.


Hey JR,
McKnight has some good insights here. I always enjoy hearing from someone who loves books enough to think about which ones to read.

Maybe he mentioned it in class, but I think the first thing we must remember is our time reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on God's Word must be a solid daily habit before we start diving into all of the "other" things there are to read. I've found, especially in seminary, it can be so easy to neglect the Word and at the same time be up to my ears in Piper, Wright, Lewis, Blomberg, Carson or whoever.

Also, I disagree with the comments about commentaries. They surely have their place in our studies, but they should come at the end of our studies, not the beginning. Pastors should build the reference libraries with lexicons, concordances and word study tools first and foremost. Then, after we've done our own work studying (hopefully, in the original languages), we may goto a commentary for added insight. In both my Greek and Hebrew classes, using the commentaries is forbidden until we learn to work with the languages. It may not be possible for every pastor to learn the languages, but we need to realize knowing Greek and Hebrew is more ideal then leaning on others' study and opinions (found in commentaries) as our primary means of figuring out a passage. McKnight's recommendation to have a commentary for every book of the Bible before taking a pastorate is interesting. I sure hope having a good commentary is not essential for good Bible study, because that means someone else (who wrote the commentary) is doing the real studying.

Lastly, McKnight contradicts himself if he commends the classics and refuses fiction. Has he read the classics, because they are all fiction. I imagine he's talking more about contemporary, fluffy fiction (romance novels and such), but I bet he wouldn't have a problem with fiction if he had time to read it. I bet he has time to watch movies based on fiction. In that case, fiction itself isn't the issue, having enough time to read it is his and our issue.

Scot McKnight

Thanks for the interaction. A couple of points:

1. I recommend a reference library -- and I talked about commentaries. I'm all for reference books and have them all. And in my library reference books are closest to my desk, etc.. I believe pastors need good commentaries.

2. Now on "classics" -- I guess I define the term diffierently. Novels came about mostly in the 19th Century. For me a "classic" is old, and much older than the 19th Century. So, I have another joke: if it is a classic, say The Odyssey, then it can't be fiction. Why? Because it's a classic!

Try as hard as you will, I'm hopeless: novels bore me to death. Esp the Russians.

And it surprises me if you are Reformed to be defending the reading of novels. Know what the Puritans said about novel reading?

All fun here.

Thanks JR. Good discussion.


Pray for your literary salvation...that's funny. :) I understand avoiding a certain genre if you just plain don't like it; but I hope you try a taste of fiction every once in awhile. It may grow on you. :)

To clarify for Scot, I am not of a Reformed background, but just finished my MDiv at Regent College (non-denominational but with Reformed tendencies). I read some novels there as part of my coursework, which I know is pretty unusual (but powerful) for seminary curriculum.

"Novels bore me to death. Especially the Russians" !!! Maybe you've read the wrong ones...I think (and I realize I am not in company with many) that the Brothers Karamazov is amazingly boring. But there's a scene in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment where a prostitute reads the story of Lazarus' resurrection to a murderer. I cannot see how such a thing could bore you to death, but as I have been bored to death by other non-fiction books I will acknowledge the possibility.

I hope you both have a joyous summer rest before the next semester.


Hi JD. I found your blog through Scot McKnight's. I wish I could have been at The Well to hear you speak on Sunday; I just moved to the area and am looking for a Sunday place.

As a reader of 95% non-fiction I can totally relate to the idea of not reading stuff that people make up. I used to be anti-fiction, but over the years I've come to understand how important stories actually are. I still only read a fiction book every once in a great while (I also need to be literarily "saved") but I think there's something deeply subversive and influential about fiction. John Piper talks about using our imaginations to come up with new words and songs and, arguably, stories, because God has an imagination and we're like God.

I also just finished reading a book called "Of Fiction and Faith" in which W. Dale Brown from Calvin College interviews 12 authors about Christianity and fiction. It's a fascinating look at some fiction writers and their vision for their work.

Anyway, thanks for this and your other recent book post. I get anxious when I go into Barnes & Noble as well because I just want to eat all the books but I know there is not enough time.

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